As Jennifer noted earlier, the Obama administration was trumpeting the equivocal statements coaxed out of the Chinese yesterday about “working with” the United States on Iran sanctions as proof of a major diplomatic victory. At last, we were told, the president’s magic touch had convinced Beijing to come along with the community of nations and stop acting as the Iranian regime’s protector at the United Nations.
Indeed, the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times proclaimed “China Supports Iran Sanctions; Meeting Yields Results for the White House.” However, even the lede of that article undermined the headline:
President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Mr. Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.
But Obama’s cheering section wasn’t even able to enjoy that misleading headline for more than a few hours as an updated report published on the Times website Tuesday morning quickly put the “breakthrough” in perspective:
American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon. On Tuesday, though, Chinese officials in Beijing seem to strike a more cautious note. “We believe that the Security Council’s relevant actions should be conducive to easing the situation and conducive to promoting a fitting solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations,” Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry official, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing. “China supports a dual-track strategy and has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the optimal channels for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Sanctions and pressure cannot fundamentally resolve the issues.”
So far, the only “breakthrough” Obama has gotten from the Chinese is another lesson in foreign-policy jujitsu. They are not committed to serious sanctions on Iran, and despite the president’s charm offensive, there is little hope that another round of protracted negotiations will produce anything that might actually stop the Iranians. The Chinese and the Russians, who are also adamant about opposing serious sanctions, have played the president like a piano and have bought Tehran even more time (after the year Obama has already given them with his feckless “engagement” policy) to make progress toward their nuclear goal.
The administration’s much-touted nuclear conference has been a good photo op for the president, but as far as the most important foreign-policy issue facing Obama, it is proving to be a colossal flop.